Sunday, March 30, 2014

Has Facebook exceeded peak goodwill ?

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're Facebook."

Facebook has come under fire in a new posting on The New York Times. In a panic to shore up public confidence following its never-ending changes to news feeds, its perpetual weakening of privacy controls for its users, questions over the way Facebook distributes traffic to page "likes," and its alleged close association with the National Security Administration, Facebook has been on a buying spree -- first engulfing Whatsapp and now Oculus VR -- desperately trying to acquire new individual users to make up for the users scrambling to abandon the once mighty social media network.

But in Facebook's strategy to buy individual users, it has neglected the legion of small businesses that had turned to Facebook as part of their online marketing strategy. Case in point : Eat24.

According to The New York Times, small and growing businesses like Eat24 blame Facebook for upending the way it allows businesses to interact with individual users. "Facebook has changed its algorithms over the last couple of years to highlight more posts by individuals and bury posts from brands — unless, of course, a brand wants to pay for ads to promote its posts."

With Facebook's goodwill deteriorating with individual users and businesses that formerly enjoyed their Facebook experience, all this reminds us of comedian Lily Tomlin's hilarious satirical skits of a fictional telephone operator, Ernestine, who became famous for her trademark line : "We don't care; we don't have to. We're the phone company."

Let's see how long before the next brilliant college student invents a new social media platform that will create a wild Internet sensation amongst college students, leaving Facebook to join the land line telephone company and MySpace as obsolete telecommunication business models.

This Week in Carolyn Ryan Journalism Realness

Is Carolyn Ryan engaged in a smear campaign against President Barack Obama, or is she only reporting the truth ? Public Editor's "AnonyWatch Review" weighs in.

Before we delve into the latest chapter of Carolyn Ryan's media bias, let's begin by first examining the obsession with "polish" by readers of mainstream journalism. By polish, we mean the fetish with exacting spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation on big-name news Web sites.

Earlier today on Facebook, a social media network friend of mine shared a status update in which she made the observation that typographical errors in mainstream media Web sites were distracting, and they degraded her perception of the quality of news being published on said Web sites. This led to a back-and-forth discussion of this topic. At the end, I raised some concerns about how an obsession with typos may distract from the fact that very few journalists (either mainstream or alternative bloggers) very rarely tell the whole truth, that the real quality of journalism may transcend typos and should be judged, instead, on the larger quality of reporting the truth. For example, Anemona Hartocollis, the metropolitan healthcare reporter at The New York Times, gets her copy published in a form that is generally free of copy errors, but her journalism is biased as all get out. Ms. Hartocollis's reporting is emblematic of the corporate agenda in mainstream journalism. Whenever Ms. Hartocollis reports about another community hospital closing in New York City, her reporting only represents the corporate speak of profits-and-losses, and she makes no attempt to humanize the healthcare cuts' impact on real people's lives. Because corporate public relations spin is devoid of any moral obligation, Ms. Hartocollis reduces all her healthcare reporting to be about dollars and cents, siding with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's and his budget axman, Stephen Berger's, desire to make scorched earth cuts to healthcare. As far as Ms. Hartocollis's reporting is concerned, she's never attempted to ever report about the human right to healthcare. Just because Ms. Hartocollis's copy is clean of typos, it doesn't mean it's anymore truthful than a Medicaid Redesign Team press release.

Another example I noted in the back-and-forth on Facebook today was that of a blogger, with whom I'm on the outs. She butchers the presentation of information on her blog like nobody's business. Sometimes, her stream of consciousness blog postings contain incomplete sentences, but more often than not she gets it right when it comes to exposing government and real estate corruption. Her reporting delves deeper than the reporting of some reporters published in The New York Times, for example. Another blogger I know makes big-time typos, too, and sometimes his text "disappears" because of slip-shod copying-and-pasting, but from his blog his readers can learn how to see the corrupt political chess pieces move on big social issues. I acknowledge that it is important to present information, especially journalism, in a way that is accessible to readers, but mainstream journalism, even factoring into account all the waves of "corporate layoffs," still have access to resources like copy editors, interns, other editors, and webmasters that can proof writing after it's been submitted. But, as have been noted time and again, mainstream journalism has come to reflect a corporate agenda that distorts the ability of mainstream journalists to report the whole truth.

Over time, astute readers of political reporting learn that to discover the truth, once must read multiple sources of the same story in order to "average," "balance," and/or "correct" the news. If readers were to solely judge writing on cosmetics, that criteria will short change readers on the truth. Obvious mistakes should be corrected, but some bloggers don't even have editors. So, I'll always defend bloggers before mainstream reporters. But even then, I don't look at polish as being the only criteria for realness.

Carolyn Ryan's use of anonymous sources to report about President Obama's political backlash in the final midterm Congressional elections

Two weeks ago, Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan oversaw a report published in The New York Times about Democrats's fears about "their midterm election fortunes amid President Obama’s sinking approval ratings." The article contained a passage with a shady anonymous attribution :

“One Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Obama was becoming ‘poisonous’ to the party’s candidates. At the same time, Democrats are pressing senior aides to Mr. Obama for help from the political network.”

Public editor Margaret Sullivan chastised Ms. Ryan for the use of an anonymous quote, an issue of recent concern to the public editor and the readers of The New York Times. In her defense, Ms. Ryan pieced together a weak defense in which she denied engaging in an hominem attack on the president. It's difficult to believe that Ms. Ryan, as editor, or Jonathan Martin and Ashley Parker, as the reporters of the subject article, would go out of their way to wrongly roll up responsibility for the flagging fortunes of the national Democratic Party on the president. But the larger political reality that Ms. Ryan and Ms. Sullivan ignored is how the Obama administration silences dissent through political machinations, maneuvering that every high-level elected official uses to control his or her own political narrative. Ms. Ryan was famous for espousing the political narrative propagated by former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn when Ms. Ryan used to serve as the metropolitan editor for the newspaper. But now, Ms. Ryan has perhaps learned to challenge power holders, and, by relying on the sentiments of an anonymous source, Ms. Ryan may actually be expanding the political reporting in The New York Times rather than just repeating the official party line of the politicians she's tasked to cover.

No doubt that Ms. Ryan's anonymous sources for the subject article really exist, because many Democrats are plainly fed up by President Obama's corruption scandals involving the National Security Administration, the Monsanto Protection Act, and other political controversies. The public editor was critical of Ms. Ryan's use of an anonymous source, but if Ms. Sullivan would like to further examine why Democrats are afraid to speak out against President Obama, perhaps the editors of The New York Times should examine President Obama's political persecution of liberal advocates and institutions he locks up in the veal pen ? In her further defense, after Ms. Ryan endured so much criticism about her biased reporting that benefitted Ms. Quinn, Ms. Ryan may finally be learning the truth about how journalism really works when one is fully reporting uncomfortable truths about the corrupt political machinations of an elected official. Some sources may not want to go on the record for fear of political retribution. Like a typo hear or their, sometimes journalism realness doesn't always come neatly packaged and wrapped. After President Obama's veal pen gets examined, maybe editors can turn their attention to Ms. Hartocollis's media bias ?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

MRT Hospital Closings, Healthcare Cuts' Impact on Mental Health, Safety Net Care

From the Demand A Hospital listserv :

Dear All :

Some recent and past article links on the impact of hospital closings and other healthcare cuts to New York City's mental health, homeless, and safety net care :

  • The death of a mentally ill veteran in an overheated cell at Rikers Island exposed fundamental flaws in New York’s homeless and healthcare systems, members of the City Council said on Thursday. (
  • The president of The Doe Fund is outraged that a homeless man was arrested, and later died in Rikers Island, instead of being taken to a shelter. (
  • Last year, the New York State Office of Mental Health unveiled a sweeping plan to consolidate and reduce the number of state-run psychiatric hospitals from 24 to 15. (
  • Holliswood Hospital, a 127-bed private psychiatric hospital in Queens, closed in 2013. (
  • Many of the poor people who rely on safety-net hospitals will have to look for healthcare elsewhere after a government subsidy critical to hospitals’ survival is being sharply reduced under the new health law. (

After the closing of St. Vincent's, it looks like we lost more than just critical hospital facilities. Have New York City elected officials also lost their charitable concern for those with the least ?

Thanks for all that you do.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Tell Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop closing our hospitals : 1 (518) 474-8390

You can also tweet your concerns to Gov. Cuomo at : @NYGovCuomo

Friday, March 28, 2014

Will Bill de Blasio truly reform aid and services to homeless ?

The New York City Mayor is seeking a change in New York State's budget in order to help provide rent subsidies to homeless families.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been engaged in a public public relations battle with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the city's request for a state budget amendment that would provide rent subsidies for up to 2,800 families a year, "costing a total of $21 million in the first year and growing to $115 million annually by the fifth year," The New York Times reported.

While the mayor tries to shame the governor into approving the city's request for a state budget amendment, the mayor has yet to publicly commit to settling a class action lawsuit filed by homeless youths against New York City for failing to provide adequate shelter, as required by law, to minors.

As the mayor tries to use the state budget amendment to shore up the publicity of his efforts to address skyrocketing homelessness in New York City, former mayoral candidate and head of The Doe Fund George McDonald faulted New York City law enforcement for arresting and incarcerating a homeless former Marine for the sole crime of seeking warmth over a freezing February evening. The homeless former Marine, Jerome Murdough, was placed in deplorable conditions at Rikers Island, where he died while in custody as a result of neglect by city correctional officers.

After recent political popularity polls showed the mayor's favorability ratings sinking after his personal vendetta against charter schools leader Eva Moskowitz, Mayor de Blasio has been trying to shore up his credentials with the liberal wing of city Democrats.

But his efforts to deal with homelessness have thus far been incremental and do not address the larger determinants that make people lose shelter.

The state budget amendment, that will benefit less than 3,000 families, will take five years to fully roll out, if it secures and keeps its precarious funding. After another scandal over the mayor's motorcade openly violating traffic safety laws, the mayor's office announced reforms to two of the largest city-owned family shelters, according to The New York Observer. The mayor's move to reform those two shelters followed an exposée by The New York Times that revealed that homeless families with children living in the two shelters endured deplorable conditions, including "cockroaches, spoiled food, violence and insufficient heat."

Several weeks ago, one homeless man, who suffered through many indignities at the hands of the city's impossible homeless system, demonstrated that New York City makes it a practice to deny housing social workers to people who come in and out of the city's shelters, leading some activists to charge that the city cynically doesn't have to provide shelter if it doesn't first provide housing social workers.

VIDEO : The moving moment a deaf woman HEARS for the first time

Deaf Joanne Milne HEARS for the first time with cochlear implants in moving video

In an amasing video, Joanne Milne, from Gateshead, a town in northeast England, is recorded as she hears sound for the first time after she underwent a life-changing operation to fit cochlear implants. The video documents the moment Ms. Milne's doctor tests the functionality of the cochlear implants. Ms. Milne, 40, suffers the rare condition called Usher Syndrome, which had left her deaf since birth and claimed her sight in her mid-20s. The cochlear implants have restored her sense of sound.

Ms. Milne's inspirational medical miracle story has moved many people, and she's attracted many supporters, including a mention on Twitter DJ Lauren Laverne, from BBC6 Radio.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

de Blasio, Cuomo Playing Tit-for-Tat Politics With Homeless

PUBLISHED : TUES, 25 MAR 2014, 08:49 PM
UPDATED : THURS, 27 MAR 2014, 09:04 AM

Mayor de Blasio shaming Gov. Cuomo over state homeless budget request ; meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio ignoring homeless youths class action lawsuit

Andrew Cuomo Bill de Blasio photo andrew-cuomo-bill-de-blasio_zps07f38878.jpg

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is deeply involved in brokering the backroom deals that will produce the state's budget. Since there's been a very public conflict between the governor and the mayor over the mayor's stalled request to increase taxes for the most wealthy New Yorkers and the mayor's plan to close charter schools, both of which the governor has opposed, the mayor appears to be seeking political retribution against the governor by making it look like the governor is, in turn, stalling on the city's request for a change in the state's budget in respect of homeless resources.

Mayor de Blasio is seeking "permission to use state funds for rental subsidies," Capital New York is reporting, and it's not clear why the mayor submitted his request so late into the state's budget process.

"As everyone knows, the budget is due in less than a week so we can assume the city's proposal will be for next year, because at this point it's too late to take up anything significant this year," the governor's spokesperson Melissa DeRosa was quoted as having said, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

“According to the governor’s office, the city’s efforts on its homelessness prevention plan paled in comparison to its push for prekindergarten financing : Mr. de Blasio’s preliminary proposal was less than two pages and omitted crucial details, and the city never scheduled a meeting," The New York Times is reporting, adding that, "The mayor’s office said Cuomo administration officials did not respond to a request for a meeting from an official in the Department of Homeless Services. The governor’s office said the request was merely a text message to an assistant to the deputy secretary for human services.”

While Mayor de Blasio has managed to crash Gov. Cuomo's intricate backroom budget dealmaking, Gov. Cuomo has had to play down the latest public flashpoint between the two. "Anything we can do, I would want to do," Gov. Cuomo said during a press conference, according to Politicker. But, Gov. Cuomo said, "It’s late in the day to put something in the actual budget because the budget train has basically left the station,” he added, sounding irritated, “So, to start a new proposal, it’s too late.”

As Mayor de Blasio is shaming Gov. Cuomo over the unlikelihood that the state will grant the city's homeless budget amendment, Mayor de Blasio has yet to settle in his own right the class action lawsuit filed by homeless youths, who are denied shelter by New York City, a violation of law. If the mayor were truly committed to help people in homeless shelters, then the mayor would settle the homeless youths' lawsuit.

Recent revelations further show that New York City systematically denies housing social workers to people, who seek shelter in its homeless program. By denying housing social workers, the city government does not become obligated to finding permanent housing for people in and out of its homeless shelter system, one of the largest reasons that people in homeless shelters face a catch-22.

  • UPDATE : Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reopened the door Wednesday to Mayor Bill de Blasio's bid to secure state funds to combat homelessness, with a Cuomo administration source saying the governor is "trying to actively resolve" the issue. (Cuomo relents on NYC homeless aid request * Newsday)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

With licensing technicality, is New York State dooming LICH bidding process ?

If the winning bidder for Long Island College Hospital (LICH) does not have a license to operate a hospital in New York state, then Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Nirav Shah could jeopardise the future of LICH.

Had the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) submitted a bid, LICH would have had a greater chance of maintaining full-service hospital care for the community. It's not known if HHC could still partner with one of the bidders for licensing purposes. Since most healthcare activists, led principally by healthcare unions, are held captive in veal pens by the new de Blasio administration, there's no real advocacy to press Mayor Bill de Blasio to use HHC resources, such as its licensing permits, to help save LICH.

Optimism and confusion over LICH proposals

By Dan Goldberg
Mar. 26, 2014 | 5:00 a.m.

In the end, it might be a technicality that undoes a number of long-sought bids to maintain Long Island College Hospital as a full-service medical facility.

The issue, mentioned during Tuesday night's community forum at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, regards the licensing of the buyer, after the hospital is sold by SUNY and the interpretation of Article 28 of New York's public health law, a technical but crucial point that could determine the fate of the hospital.

Community members, who were briefed last night on proposals from nine separate bidders to purchase and redevelop LICH, favor the ones who plan for a full-service health care facility. (Some of the bids propose to develop some residential units on the site.)

The potential problem is that none of the bidders proposing a full-service facility currently run a hospital in New York. That means they'd need a certificate from the state's Department of Health before they can begin operations.

There has been some concern that it would take months, or even years, to obtain such permission, which would jeopardize even the limited services currently in place at LICH.

Jim Walden, an attorney who represented community groups in the suit against SUNY and the state, said an out-of-state bidder wouldn't have trouble obtaining temporary permission to run LICH provided SUNY and the state's Department of Health are willing to cooperate.

But whether that cooperation would be forthcoming remains a question, given health commissioner Nirav Shah's and Governor Andrew Cuomo's repeated statements that there are already too many in-patient beds in Brooklyn.

Morbid Internet Memes of Missing Malaysia Airlines Flt. MH370

PUBLISHED : MON, 17 MAR 2014, 05:23 PM
UPDATED : WED, 26 MAR 2014, 9:00 AM

Did Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 Land On Gilligan's Island ?

"Are we desensitized to the point of not being able to truly empathize, or is this our way of coping with tragedies since we’ve had to endure them in different ways than have previous generations ?" asked the Web site Elite Daily in a post trying to make sense of the morbid Internet memes about the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

Jokes about the missing airplane could be a way for people to cope with the outrageousness that the U.S. government can be so incompetent and impotent, given how much technology exists today, given how the limited computer power of a smartphone can now power record-breaking robots, but seemingly, by comparison, the U.S. government could still be blind-sided by the inadequate technology aboard jet airplanes over a decade after terrorists used airplanes as weapons of mass destruction during the attacks of 9/11.

These Internet memes are funny, when you think of the irony, but then they become tragic, when you think of the missing people and the pain and agony of their surviving friends and families. The government's continuing negligence in failing to update airline black box technology could be one of those concerns that Edward Snowden was warning us about : the danger that the U.S. government's dragnet surveillance program would inundate the government with so much useless information in such large quantities that the government would lose focus of more important issues, like finding missing airplanes, improving airplane black box technology, or being able to predict that Russia would pounce on Crimea, and, more importantly, when.

Internet Memes : When the implied butt of the joke is the impotent government

As the public's imagination has turned from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flt. 370 to morbid memes that the flight has accidentally landed on Gilligan's Island, or when the public imagines that Tattoo from Fantasy Island, who was famous for announcing the arrival of "The plane ! The plane !" would probably do a better job of locating the missing flight than the government, you know that the public's perception of government competence is in the gutter.

How soon before Republicans seize on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight as a flashpoint to demonstrate that President Barack Obama failed to improve world-wide aviation safety in the post-9/11 world ?

When is the U.S. government going to wise up, stop gutting the U.S. Constitution with its dragnet surveillance programs, and, instead, focus on the things the government should be addressing : like ensuring adequate safety technology being deployed and functional aboard every airplane ?

A lingering, yet compelling, question facing investigators is whether Malaysia Airlines offered its passengers Wi-Fi service. If so, did the Wi-Fi signal remain available, even though other communication services aboard the flight seem to have been deliberately disabled ? Because some airlines place Wi-Fi service behind a paywall, how many passengers on the flight had paid to access any available Wi-Fi service ? Since the Federal Aviation Administration and other airline agencies heavily regulate passenger use of cellphones, PDA's, digital tablets, and laptops aboard commercial aircraft, do airline regulators inadvertently cut-off communication technology that is undoubtedly "smarter" than black boxes and deactivation-prone transponders ?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Obama Administration Is “Greatest Enemy" of Freedom of the Press

NYTimes Reporter : Obama White House Is ‘‘Greatest Enemy of Press Freedom’’ Today

From Poynter :

New York Times reporter James Risen, who is fighting an order that he testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, opened the conference earlier by saying the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” The administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting,” Risen said, to “create a path for accepted reporting.” Anyone journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, “will be punished.”

It's not known, though, if staff reporters at The New York Times are able to give voice to the serious constitutional violations by the Obama administration, then why won't the newspaper's political editor allow reporters to fully report the truth as news ?

Monday, March 24, 2014

VIDEO : NYC Freedom Tower Skydiver Jump

Three daredevils, along with their lookout, pulled off a breathtaking jump from the Freedom Tower in New York City, and the jump was documented in a daredevil YouTube video shot at night, The New York Daily News reported.

By jumping from the top of the Freedom Tower, the stunt men engaged in what is referred to as B.A.S.E. jumping, a risky sport where "participants jump from fixed objects and use a parachute to break their fall," according to Wikipedia. B.A.S.E. is an "acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: building, antenna, span, and Earth (cliff)."

The comments to the YouTube video ranged from excitable "Wow's" to shaming the daredevils. "Perhaps it would have been wise to take into account that you did this on the SAME grounds many poor souls as well jumped, as it was not for their enjoyment," one commenter wrote.

Conflicts of Interest, Corruptive Role of Developers, and Shady Donors Mar Post-Election Contributions

From City & State :


New York City Council members are more careful vetting their campaign donors than those who contribute transition funds.

Corey Johnson photo corey-johnson-fb2_zps43134c23.jpg

New York City Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, the West Village and Hell’s Kitchen, threw himself an elegant inauguration costing upwards of $30,000, including $1,500 on flowers. Rather than sourcing this business to one of his district’s many high-end florists, or to the city’s flower district on 28th Street, Johnson hired his chief of staff’s mother, who owns a flower shop 150 miles away in Norwich, Conn., to provide the floral arrangements for his swearing-in celebration. The councilman also spent $14,000 on food with a caterer based in New Jersey. Johnson’s chief of staff, Jeffrey LeFrancois, did not respond to questions as to why his mother’s business was chosen to supply the Johnson inaugural with its table arrangements.

Are the progressives who now constitute the Council leadership any different from the typical big city machine politician with a wide smile and an open palm ?

According to the city’s Campaign Finance Board’s rules, Transition and Inauguration (TIE) funds are not matched by public funding, so elected officials are free to distribute the money they raise for those purposes largely at their own discretion. As such, TIE funds are a gray area of political financing, not just because they are mostly spent on parties, but also because they do not receive a lot of scrutiny. A candidate taking money from a dubious donor will be criticized by his opponent, but the winner of the election no longer faces campaign opposition, and is freer to accept TIE money from questionable sources.

For example, Johnson was adamant throughout his campaign that he was independent of real estate and development interests, and insisted that his professional life in the hospitality industry was so incidental as to be practically an afterthought. Indeed Johnson took only a small amount of money from the real estate industry in his race for Council. As soon as he was elected, however, he accepted $5,000 in TIE money from the Meilman brothers, who own a large stretch of prime retail property on 14th Street just east of the High Line. Johnson also received $15,000 from the developers and managers of the Dream Hotel in the famed Maritime Building on Ninth Avenue, including the owners of Tao Nightclub.

One of these developers, Punjabi hotelier Sant Chatwal, purchased a decommissioned church on 44th Street and converted it into a luxury hotel called the Chatwal. He neglected to inform the Department of Finance that the building was no longer a house of worship, and thus no longer exempt from property taxes. By the time the city caught up with this omission, the hotel had avoided payment of $2 million.

Johnson also accepted $2,500 from Judith Rubin. Rubin is the wife of Robert Rubin, Clinton’s secretary of the Treasury. Secretary Rubin oversaw the dismantling of regulatory oversight of the financial industry, and urged caution regarding the regulation of credit derivatives. He then became chairman of Citigroup, which had to be bailed out by the U.S. government following the 2008 collapse of the financial industry. Between 1999 and 2009 Rubin received more than $125 million in compensation from Citigroup.

Is there a contradiction inherent in a supposed “progressive” who aggressively touts his family’s labor background partying on the dime of a person who perhaps typifies the “1 percent”? Or is it the case that in a one-party town, being a “Democrat” covers the widest range of sins?

Carlos Menchaca photo CarlosMenchaca-cdd70e14_zpsef9b357b.jpg

Another progressive whose TIE fundraising appears to be incongruous with his politics is Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who, like Johnson, was selected as a freshman by his borough colleagues to be a co-leader of their respective delegations. Menchaca ran as a reformist insurgent against Sara Gonzalez, whom he vilified as a tool of “Manhattan millionaire developers” for receiving support from Jobs for New York, the Real Estate Board’s independent expenditure arm. But soon after taking office, Menchaca accepted $1,500 in TIE funding from Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, which is essentially run and funded by the same major property owners who spearheaded Jobs for New York.

Menchaca also took $1,500 from John Ciafone, a Queens lawyer and property owner who was listed on Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s Worst Slumlord watchlist in 2011. De Blasio returned two large contributions from Ciafone when it was revealed that he was a donor, but Menchaca is apparently untroubled by or unaware of whom he is accepting from.

John Ciafone’s wife is Gina Argento, the CEO of Broadway Stages, a large television and film production studio and sound stage company in Brooklyn and Queens. Argento and her brother Anthony Argento are prolific contributors to political campaigns, and each gave $1,500 to Menchaca’s TIE committee.

Last year the Argentos applied to have a subsidiary company, Luna Lighting, receive a license to operate as a trade waste business, which would allow the company to cart demolition and construction debris from worksites. As the Argentos have ownership interest in many industrial sites that they would like to repurpose for other commercial uses (for example, the Knockdown Center in Maspeth), owning their own demolition hauling company would provide vertical integration to their business. The city’s Business Integrity Commission issued a harsh denial of the Argentos’ application, citing a history of illegal carting by Luna Lighting, and also misrepresentation by Anthony Argento of his arrest record.

Furthermore, Anthony Argento was shown to have over $1 million in federal tax liens against him, as well as his business. As of April 2013 Argento owed the Internal Revenue Service more than $600,000. This information was all published by the city and is a matter of public record. One imagines that Menchaca or his staff must have done some cursory analysis of who was giving him money. Or perhaps the Argentos have papered the city with enough contributions that their questionable business practices do not raise the eyebrows of even the most progressive elected officials.

Debi Rose of Staten Island, one of the Council’s seven deputy leaders, threw herself a $7,000 inaugural party, even though she has already served a full term. It is typical for freshman Council members to have a lavish inauguration, though it is not unheard of for veterans to do so as well: Rose’s fellow progressive Councilwoman Margaret Chin had a five-figure celebratory dinner to commemorate her election to a second term.

Margaret Chin photo Margaret-Chin-AV4A8916_zps4bc2a318.jpg

Rose raised a relatively small amount of TIE money, but she got it from some strange sources. Almost half of her TIE contributions come from four men who appear to work together in a real estate company called Shore to Shore Realty Partners. The business address is listed with the Secretary of State as 15 Page Avenue on Staten Island, which is the location of a 7-Eleven convenience store. No one at the store has any knowledge of Shore to Shore.

In 2011 the CEO of Shore to Shore, Andrew Gonchar, who gave Rose $2,000, was recently barred for life from the securities industry by the Securities Exchange Commission, which noted in its decision that Gonchar actively sought to “gouge” his bond-trading retail customers.

Whether accepting these donations was hypocritical, unwise or justifiable is for the Council members and their constitutents to judge. What is certain, however, is that elected officials exercise far more due diligence vetting whom they take campaign dollars from than from whom they receive Transition and Inauguration funds. The bar is much lower for TIE funds because the election is over, the next campaign is more than three years off and none of the money is eligible for public matching funding anyway, so who really cares? Still, for those paying attention, TIE contributions are an amusing coda to campaign finance season, when elected officials can embrace their unseemly supporters and freely take what they had to deny themselves during the Lenten pre-election period. Which begs the question: Are the progressives who now constitute the Council leadership any different from the typical big city machine politician with a wide smile and an open palm ?

Melissa Mark-Viverito photo melissa_mark-viverito_3_zpscc49b72b.jpg

The Advance Group, which provided unpaid consultants to Melissa Mark-Viverito's speakership campaign, worked for the City Action Coalition PAC, which lists 'traditional marriage' as its platform and supported opponents of gay City Council candidates.
(The New York Daily News)
Did Scott Levenson sabotage LGBT civil rights attorney Yetta Kurland's political campaign ?
(Scott Levenson : Biggest Loser Of The Week * NYC : News & Analysis)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bratton seeks to continue Kelly's police policies, in spite of civil rights concerns

Why does the New York City Council fund police tactics that violate the Civil Rights Act ?

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton "has signaled few dramatic changes in policy from his predecessor," Capital New York reported last week, but he has focused "his efforts on boosting the department’s image in the eyes of the City Council... ."

In his first testimony before the New York City Council, Commissioner Bratton expressed a desire to boost the number of police officers, saying that he though the size of the police force was "too small," which represents a contradiction to statements he made upon his formal appointment, when Commissioner Bratton had said that he was satisfied with the number of NYPD officers.

Some police reform activists note that Commissioner Bratton has notified the City Council that "continuity" of former Commissioner Ray Kelly's controversial policies is the primary goal of his administration. As if to gut the hopes of police reform activists, who had pinned their dreams of ending controversial police tactics, Commissioner Bratton observed in gratitude that the City Council, which is led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, was the most friendly municipal legislature with which he's ever worked.

Police reform activists have expressed concern that the City Council will abdicate its duty to hold the police commissioner accountable for enacting reforms.

At a town hall meeting last week of the Police Reform Organizing Project, it appeared that PROP Director Robert Gangi, pictured, kept saying that it was incumbent upon community groups to hold Commissioner Bratton accountable for enacting reforms that would end the police force's violations of civil liberties and civil rights, but Mr. Gangi seemed to avoid embracing any call to actually hold the commissioner's, the mayor's, or City Councilmembers' feet to the fire, even as some panel members at last week's town hall urged police reform activists to focus on continued civil rights violations apparent in NYPD tactics. After hearing Mr. Gangi congratulate Mayor Bill de Blasio in absentia for having a "progressive" record, one audience member pointed out during the question-and-answer period that Mayor de Blasio arguably made the most "regressive" police commissioner appointment by selecting Mr. Bratton.

Each year, the mayor and the City Council approve the NYPD's budget, usually with little to no oversight, thereby funding the police force's most controversial tactics and programs, even the ones that are eventually ruled by federal courts to violate the civil liberties and civil rights of innocent New Yorkers.

In the time leading up to last year's mayoral campaign, police reform activists staged numerous protests against the police force's unconstitutional program known as stop-and-frisk. At one protest in Jackson Heights, Queens, activists highlighted former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's practise of fully funding controversial police tactics that appeared to violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with complete impunity.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

FAA, clueless to help, grateful it was neither an American flight that disappeared, nor that the disappearance took place near America

Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 Torments Aviation Regulators More Than We're Being Told

Whenever a natural disaster, armed conflict, or a political crisis sparks anywhere around the world, the agencies of the United States federal government normally roll up rather swiftly, to lend their experience, to take charge, or to provide passive assistance. In the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, U.S. aviation officials can only stand down, because they appear to be as clueless as Malaysian aviation officials as to the lack of credible, concrete information about what happened aboard Flight MH370.

"The American investigators believe that the Malaysian government was reluctant to share information with them because they fear exposing their weak radar and satellite systems," The New York Times reported, noting that American aviation officials don't want any blowback directed their way, adding, in keeping with its Timesian tradition of parsing its analysis, "With few leads to go on, countries cooperating in the search have sometimes sniped at one another."

There's a bias in the media, or else just plain old lazy reporting, that nobody is asking why Boeing, the manufacturer of the missing aircraft, cannot explain or is not being asked to explain why the tracking systems failed on a plane believed to have continued its flight for several hours after last contact.

Flight MH370 disappeared two weeks ago while carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China, but the large coalition of nations working on the search for the missing jet have been stymied in every way possible, because for days they were operating on assumptions that had no factual basis and were, consequently, conducting searches anywhere the latest fad theory would point. In this situation, the United States, an undisputed leader in aviation technology and surveillance, has declined to assert leadership, because it, too, is ignorant of what happened to Flight MH370. What would be the difference if the communication equipment aboard the jet of an American airline had been deactivated, or if the disappearance of a jet had taken place in one of the oceans thousands of miles off of the U.S. coastline instead of the Australian coastline ? Probably not much, and that's precisely why the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing are keeping a low profile right now, and that's exactly why the media can only speculate about what might have happened.

As it stands, what should be more worrisome is that the equipment aboard an American-manufactured Boeing 777 failed. What do American aviation regulators have to say about the integrity, safety, and reliability of tracking equipment aboard the jets manufactured by Boeing ? Nothing. Why all the silence ?

As often as Malaysian aviation officials have been criticized for failing to be transparent about their lack of information, so, too, should the F.A.A. be pressed to admit that it lacks the same information. When will the media ask how the F.A.A. would handle the search for Flight MH370 if American aviation officials had been in charge of this investigation ? When will focus shift from the scrutiny of Malaysia Airlines to Boeing ?

As the investigation turns to identifying criminal responsibility for the missing flight, will the U.S. government focus on the spectacular intelligence failure that appears to allow airplanes to remain vulnerable to criminality over a decade since the Sept. 11 attacks and susceptible to going missing almost five years since the 2009 accident that befell Air France Flight 447 over the Atlantic Ocean ?

For the U.S. government, which is caught up in a controversy over the indiscriminate dragnet surveillance by the National Security Administration, the blind spots in aviation safety patterns recent blind spots in foreign policy risks, such as the Russian takeover of Crimea. These blind spots are proof that real threats are not being assessed while the N.S.A. is wholly consumed with the distraction of dragnet surveillance -- a dangerous situation about which civil libertarians and journalists had warned would happen as a result of the Obama administrations's faulty obsession with collecting Internet data.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cesspool of Political Corruption Will Only Get Worse Until Sheriff Preet Shuts It Down (Updated)

Scott Levenson NY-CLASS Christine Quinn Bill de Blasio FBI Investigation into Campaign Corruption photo 2014-04-25TheNewYorkDailyNewsFBIReport_zps189d95ac.png

In the past few weeks, FBI agents have been asking questions about the campaign by the animal rights group NY-CLASS to strong arm former Council Speaker Christine Quinn (center) to support a ban on the iconic horse-drawn carriages, two sources familiar with the matter told The New York Daily News. The horse lobbyists in question include Scott Levenson, and they are linked to Mayor Bill de Blasio (inset). (FBI investigating claim that Christine Quinn was threatened by Scott Levenson for refusing to support carriage horse ban during the mayoral race * The New York Daily News)

PUBLISHED : WED, 19 MAR 2014, 09:07 AM
UPDATED : FRI, 25 APR 2014, 05:40 PM

Super PAC's already lead to corruption, regardless whether annual individual contribution cap is kept at $150,000 or is raised.

Campaign finance expert and Georgetown University government professor Clyde Wilcox added the authority of his expertise to a filing made by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in an effort to block a "Republican-backed political action committee to topple the state’s $150,000 annual contribution limit for individuals," The New York Daily News is reporting.

Professor Wilcox warned that many Super PAC's “would be closely linked to individual candidates or to political parties,” inviting quid-pro-quo corruption, The New York Daily News report added.

NYC Is Not For Sale, "a coalition of left-leaning unions, Democratic donors and animal rights groups," according to a report by The New York Daily News, spent $1.1 million broadcasting several TV commercials that were critical of former Council Speaker Christine Quinn in an effort that ultimately boosted Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's mayoral campaign. As if validating Professor Wilcox's fears, in the days leading up to the general election last November, a Republican political activist filed a complaint with city campaign finance regulators, accusing Mr. de Blasio and key supporters of illegally coordinating the activities of the NYC Is Not For Sale Super PAC that spent more than $1 million attacking former Speaker Quinn in the Democratic primary race for mayor, The New York Post reported.

Preet Bharara - The Only Policeman In New York State photo Preet-Bharara-dbpix-henning-tmagArticle-NYTimes_zpsaf6e1719.jpg

As it stands, city and state campaign finance regulators are being pressed by wealthy campaign contributors, big business interests, and corrupt lobbyists to weaken campaign reform laws under the false guise that caps on contributions "unconstitutionally restricts free speech." The only truly impartial and independent authority to enforce regulations is the U.S. Attorney's Office. Pending before those federal prosecutors is a complaint, asking that the Department of Justice determine whether Super PAC's and their lobbyists broke federal laws pertaining to bribery and the illegal coordinating of Super PAC activities with official campaign activities.

2014-03-12 New York Progress and Protection PAC - Declaration of Clyde Wilcox (57)

2014-03-17 New York Progress and Protection PAC - Defs Memo of Law Opposing MSJ (53)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Political Machinations Cloud Campaign Finance Board's Decision-Making

PUBLISHED : TUES, 18 MAR 2014, 11:49 AM
UPDATED : MON, 21 APR 2014, 05:38 PM

With John Liu's lawsuit against New York City over conflicted city campaign finance regulators, this makes three federal referrals of elections violations, forcing Mayor de Blasio to lawyer-up, recruit special inside election counsel.

After a wave of federal complaints that have been lodged over electioneering violations in last year's municipal elections, Mayor Bill de Blasio has hired a special legal advisor specializing in election law.

  1. GOP consultant E. O'Brien Murray argued to the State Department that Patrick Gaspard, a former top White House aide with a deep history in Gotham politics, violated the federal Hatch Act by getting involved in Mayor de Blasio's campaign -- and City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito's subsequent election as speaker -- while representing the U.S. in South Africa. (GOP Operative Files Hatch Act Complaint Against U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard * The New York Daily News)
  2. Louis Flores, a local political gadfly who ran a blog and wrote a book criticizing Christine Quinn, has filed a complaint with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s criminal division against Scott Levenson and The Advance Group consulting firm, which came under deep scrutiny during the mayoral campaign. (Federal Complaint Filed Against The Advance Group for Election Work * Politicker)
  3. Former New York City Comptroller and failed mayoral candidate John Liu has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its Campaign Finance Board. He says the board unfairly crippled his campaign by denying him matching funds in last year's race for mayor. (Ex-NYC mayor hopeful sues Campaign Finance Board * AP/The San Francisco Chronicle)

The federal complaints filed by Mr. Flores and Mr. Liu allege that the Campaign Finance Board is not sufficiently independent of political motivations to independently conduct investigations and to render fair and just decisions. Since Mayor de Blasio and City Council Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and/or their political operatives, are entangled in some of these federal complaints, it should come as no surprise that Mayor de Blasio is now maneuvering to use his public office to defend himself against allegations of wrong-doing that took place during the electioneering of last year's municipal elections.

Mr. Berger had once saved Mayor de Blasio's political career when the election lawyer kept Mr. de Blasio from getting kicked off the 2009 race for public advocate after an error was found on a Board of Elections submission. In his new post, Mr. Berger "will provide legal counsel to the mayor and staff at City Hall," according to City & State. Other than the growing number of federal elections complaints that may implicate his Council speaker and himself, it's not known what other reasons exist for Mayor de Blasio to need a taxpayer-paid election lawyer to advise him.

Typically, the Campaign Finance Board "audits suspect claims long after an election and then imposes financial penalties on rule breakers," the Editorial Board of The New York Daily News wrote. In John Liu's case, the Campaign Finance Board "moved beyond policing violations to imposing the death penalty on a mayoral campaign."

As the staff of the Campaign Finance Board and the mayor's legal counsel become more politicized, it should not come to such a surprise that the mayor would receive preferential treatment at the hands of the Campaign Finance Board that he oversees.

Among the complaints that Mr. Liu alleged in his complaint about the Campaign Finance Board, he noted that appointees to the Campaign Finance Board may follow the political agenda of those officials, who make the appointments. Mr. Liu further complained that two board members of the Campaign Finance Board had made campaign contributions to former Council Speaker Quinn's mayoral campaign ; in spite of their expressed interests in support of Mr. Liu's political challenger, the two board members refused to recuse themselves from the decision by city campaign finance regulators to deny public matching dollars to Mr. Liu's mayoral campaign. The Campaign Finance Board is a conflicted institution with political motivations that can be reflected in its decision-making.

Days before the general election, E. O’Brien Murray, a political operative advising Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota filed a complaint with the Campaign Finance Board, alleging that Mr. de Blasio was coordinating his campaign with an anti-Quinn Super PAC, according to The New York Post. Because of the board members of the Campaign Finance Board answer to the mayor and to the Council speaker, it's not known how serious city campaign finance regulators will investigate the complaint. It was out of precisely this concern that Mr. Flores lodged his complaint against Mr. Levenson and The Advance Group with federal prosecutors, to be able to remove the investigation from the conflicted Campaign Finance Board. Mr. Flores has separately said that he believes that the city's Department of Investigations, headed by a loyal ally of Mayor de Blasio, is also insufficiently independent from City Hall and City Council, to be able to conduct investigations that may implicate city officials or their political operatives.

Complicating matters is that reform advocates want to impose on New York State the very New York City model of campaign finance regulations, including a form of a matching public dollar program, even though city campaign finance regulations have been shown to be so questionable that activists are filing complaints at the federal level in search of a truly fair and independent review of violations.

Documents show that former Utah Attorney General John Swallow sought to transform his office into a defender of payday loan companies that had helped bankroll his election. (A Campaign Inquiry in Utah Is the Watchdogs’ Worst Case * The New York Times) Former New York City Comptroller John Liu will announce a “federal challenge” to the Campaign Finance Board after he was denied public matching funds during last year’s mayoral race. (John Liu to Announce ‘Federal Challenge’ to Campaign Finance Board * Politicker)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Government Budget Transparency Suffering In Albany, New York City

Gov. Cuomo defends shady, closed-door budget negotiations

Andrew Cuomo photo andrew-cuomo-smiles-jpg-alg_zps9d0cdc97.jpg

Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended his closed-door budget negotiations, saying, “Just because something is done behind closed doors, doesn’t mean the process isn’t transparent,” the Politics On The Hudson blog is reporting, adding, “You can’t do everything in the public view always and have frank, candid meaningful conversations.”

In further remarks, Gov. Cuomo called past attempts at budget transparency, "silly theater."

Many politicians, once elected, cease acting on behalf of voters and, instead, become captured by big business interests. Gov. Cuomo has apparently crossed over to the "dark side." Within days of his inauguration in 2010, Gov. Cuomo proposed radical cuts to Medicaid that would lead to a further push to close a series of hospitals in a scorched earth approach to make healthcare cuts to the poor. Now, he's being accused of making tax cuts to benefit the wealthy, aggravating income and wealth inequalities in New York state. That the neoliberal governor is now trying to obfuscate the state's budget negotiations comes as no surprise. Gov. Cuomo is trying to control political blowback to his shady neoliberal machinations.

Mayor de Blasio has outsourced opaque negotiations of city labor contracts to an unpaid advisor, who is not accountable to voters

Further enshrouding government budgets behind a cloak of secrecy, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed the political insider Stanley Brezenoff to be the city's "special unpaid adviser on 152 municipal labor contracts," The New York Daily News reported, noting that Mr. Brezenoff's choice was a "poor" one, given Mr. Brezenoff's history of driving Long Island College Hospital into bankruptcy.

When elected officials want to hide the government functions, they usually hide the business of government behind closed doors or special appointments.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told The New York Daily News that he had "promised Mayor de Blasio not to negotiate in public," according to the news report. When Mayor de Blasio was later confronted by the media about his decision to set aside budget reserves in preparation for the costly city union labor negotiations, Mayor de Blasio refused to answer questions about cost savings, telling Politicker, "I’m not going to answer any specific question," Mr. de Blasio said, in part.

On one hand, you have a governor hiding the business of negotiating the state's $90 billion budget behind closed doors, and, on the other, you have the mayor, refusing to discuss details about the negotiation of what is being estimated to be $7 billion in union contracts, and that is just in back bay demands.

What happened to the Democratic Party's commitment to progressive values, like transparency ?

Attacking or "controlling" bloggers as a way to thwart scrutiny

To further thwart government transparency, the governor and mayor have been taken alternate approaches with respect to bloggers. Over the week-end, Gov. Cuomo discredited bloggers, who are not subject to corporate-controlled editors, for their critical observations of government and elected officials. For his part, Mayor de Blasio has tried to control parent bloggers, forcing them to reprint his political point-of-view in his campaign for universal pre-kinder.